"Naked" Lobster Rolls
Things are going well. This fancy new site is up, I’m in Maine (which is the happiest of all happy places), and yesterday I made the most unreal Naked Lobster Rolls ever.
I have gone through many phases with lobster. As a kid, I really wasn’t into seafood of any kind, and to be honest, I had an irrational fear of lobsters. Spending summers in Northeast Harbor, Maine, where there are easily more lobster pots than people, I always had a nasty feeling that there were lobsters crawling all over the ocean floor, just waiting to latch onto my toes with their razor sharp claws. This terrifying thought, along with my subpar swimming skills, was enough to keep me out of the ocean for the majority of my formative years. (Truth be told, I’m more of a heated pool type of girl anyway.)
Even though I didn’t like the taste of lobster as a kid, I did very much enjoy my family’s lobster dinners. My mom would bring home live lobsters, and we would all gather in the kitchen, pick a lobster from the bunch, and then hold the much celebrated “lobster race.” The competitors were lined up, a finish line was marked, and the creatures were released by their “coaches” with the hope that they would move in a straight line (or at all) and win the race. Because everyone in my family is very competitive, these races were scarily intense, and I’m pretty sure those lobsters would have been offended by our words of “encouragement.” Post-race, the lobsters were “retired” to a pot of boiling water and enjoyed by the rest of my family, while I celebrated with chicken fingers. Lobster dinners were the best.
I didn’t come around to actually eating lobster until I was a teenager and my taste buds had become slightly more refined. I grew to love the sweet meat, and eating lobsters on picnics and at local Maine lobster joints was fun and rustic. However, I restricted my lobster consumption as a teenager because, for better or for worse, one tends to smell like lobster for hours after picking the meat from its shell. I was already awkard enough without adding “smells like lobster” into the mix. I also didn’t like wearing lobster bibs, since I was always trying to show off my new cleavage.
In my twenties, I have eaten plenty of lobsters, and I’m no longer concerned about the smell or the bibs. I’m also pretty proud of my ability to use lobster crackers. Those things are tricky. However, despite my lobster eating, I had never actually cooked a lobster myself until culinary school. Sad, but true.
I distinctly remember “lobster day” at Le Cordon Bleu. It was relatively early in my culinary education, and I wasn’t yet fully comfortable getting down with sea creatures, especially live ones. Plus, I was still recovering from a mildly traumatizing experience a few weeks before, which involved several creepily small live crabs escaping from my pot while I was making crab bisque. (For the record, that crab bisque may have been my greatest triumph. It tasted disgusting, and I could still feel crabs crawling on my hands for hours afterwards, but the chef said mine was the best in the class. Compliments were few and far between in those days, so I was thrilled.)
Anyhoo, I was understandably dreading that lobster class. Needless to say, the French chefs weren’t into the simple boiling or steaming methods, and the lesson involved taking live lobsters, stabbing them in the brain with a chef’s knife and splitting them down their spines before sautéing the tails in copious amounts of butter. I considered using one of my “sick days” to skip this class, but thought better of it because I needed to hoard those excused absences for real emergencies like hangovers.
Surprisingly, the lobster practical was not nearly as terrifying as I had imagined. I survived, my lobster did not, and all I can say is thank God for rubber-banded claws. I’ve cooked lobster a handful of times since then, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve had great success. However, the “Naked” Lobster Rolls that I made yesterday were definitely my finest lobster creation to date, and I felt the need to share them with you immediately.
Naked Lobster Rolls are a revelation. I know that traditional lobster rolls involve mayonnaise, but I don’t like mayonnaise, and in my not-so-humble opinion, lobster is meant to be eaten with butter. Therefore, I made a “naked” version of the traditional lobster roll, which involves tossing large chunks of freshly picked lobster meat with a significant amount of butter. You know I don’t usually cook with a lot of butter, but this was a necessary and worthwhile exception.
Just to be clear, the butter involved in these lobster rolls is bomb. Shallots, garlic and lemon zest are quickly sauteed, deglazed with a splash of white wine and then whisked with butter. The sweet and tender lobster meat gets coated with just the right amount of this amazing butter sauce, sprinkled with freshly chopped tarragon, and then piled into buttery, lightly grilled New England-style hot dog buns. These lobster rolls are ridiculously delicious, and they’re probably the most awesome things that I’ve put in my mouth this summer. Based on my badass cooking skills, that is saying a lot.
Naked Lobster Rolls are the perfect thing for a casual summer lunch or rustic dinner party. Serve them with French fries, corn on the cob, potato chips or a salad and you’re good to go. I also recommend a side of cold beer. If you’re not into bread, this buttery lobster meat would be equally delicious without the bun. Try it over a bed of mixed greens or wrapped in fresh butter lettuce leaves.
I literally feel like I can hear your complaints/resentment/profanities through the computer. Take it down a notch. Preparing Naked Lobster Rolls is not nearly as expensive, difficult, or scary as you’re imagining. First of all, it is possible to find decently priced live lobsters in more places than you might think. You just have to do a little research. I did some deep Googling (including “buying live lobsters in Kansas”), and you can get your hands on lobsters in most places in the continental US without breaking the bank.
Cooking lobsters is also shockingly easy. You simply throw them into a pot of boiling water, put the lid on, and let them cook for 10-15 minutes. Picking the meat is actually the single labor-intensive aspect of this recipe. In an ideal world, your assistant would do this part, but it’s really not all that bad. In fact, cracking the shells is weirdly satisfying.
If you’re scared of touching lobster, don’t be. Their claws are rubber-banded shut and they’re not even that slimy or gross. Realistically, you only have to handle them for like three seconds to get them into the pot, which is no biggie. Also, it’s a myth that lobsters “scream” when you put them in boiling water. Lobsters do not have vocal cords, and the hissing sound you sometimes hear when they hit the water is just air being released through their mouth parts or stomach. If this bothers you, I suggest turning up your Justin Beiber. Problem solved. If you’re still thinking that you would rather die than cook live lobster, you can obviously just buy the picked lobster meat and go from there. Duh.
Go forth and rock lobster, friends.
“Naked” Lobster Rolls: (Serves 4-6)
4 1½ lb live lobsters (or 1 lb picked lobster meat if you’re feeling lazy)
3 tablespoons kosher salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 cloves garlic, mince
3 tablespoons minced shallots
1¼ teaspoons lemon zest
¼ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped
4-6 New England-style hot dog buns
1 tablespoon softened butter
Preparing your “Naked” Lobster Rolls:
-Fill a large stockpot half full with water. Add the salt and bring the water to a rolling boil. (If you do not have a giant stockpot, chillax. You can use the largest pot you have and cook your lobsters two at a time.)
-Plunge your lobsters headfirst into the boiling water and put the lid on immediately.
-Boil your lobsters for 10-15 minutes (hard-shell take longer to cook than soft-shell…ask your lobster purveyor to tell you which type of shells you’re working with), or until the shells turn bright red.
-When cooked, remove the lobsters from the pot using tongs and drain them in a colander.
-When your lobsters are cool enough to handle, it’s time to pick the lobster meat. (I like to put the lobsters in a baking dish and stick them in the freezer for about 10 minutes to cool them down more quickly). First, pull the arms from each of the lobsters (the arms are attached to the claws, obviously) and set them aside. Then pinch near the top of each tail and twist to separate it from the body. Discard the heads/thorax (or if you are a fancy chef, you could use them to flavor a lobster or seafood soup).
-To pick the meat from the claws, hyperextend the lobster’s thumb and pull it off. Use a cracker, knife, kitchen shears or your hands to break the shell and remove the meat. Use a cracker to break the shell of the knuckles (the connection between the claws and the body) and remove the meat using a small fork. To pick the tail meat, you can either split the tail down the center with a knife or pull the edges of the tail shell firmly apart, snapping it apart. You may see some green tomalley on the tail meat where it connected to the body. Don’t freak out, just wipe it with a paper towel and forget about it immediately.
-Roughly chop all of your picked Lobster meat into large chunks. I like to only chop the tail meat, leaving the claws and knuckles intact, but feel free to chop everything if you like.
-Heat 1½ tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan. When melted, add the garlic, shallots and lemon zest and sauté for about 3 minutes until the shallots have softened and the garlic is fragrant.
-Add the white wine and allow it to evaporate completely. This should take about 3 minutes.
-Add the remaining 4½ tablespoons of butter to the pan and whisk until melted and foamy.
-Add your picked lobster meat to the pan and cook in the butter sauce for about 1 minute or until heated through.
-Remove from the heat and mix in the chopped tarragon.
-Heat a grill pan over medium heat. Lightly butter the outside of each bun with softened butter. Grill the buns for 1 minute on each side until they are toasted and have some badass grill marks.
-Fill each bun with your buttery lobster meat and go to town.
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